Fellow Christians, THIS Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

this is why we can't have nice things

Nice things like respect and social admiration. Nice things like good radio and romantic novels that aren’t pre-cycled TP. Nice things like a fair historical analysis (are you sick of “Hitler was a Christian!” yet?) nice things like positive perceptions in the media.

It’s because of things like this:


That’s a handwritten lawsuit from a certain Nebraska resident who claims to be representing Jesus Christ and God in a lawsuit against- and oh, how I wish I was kidding- all homosexuals.

Yeah, uh:


The self appointed plaintiff goes on to: “Contend that homosexuality is a sin, and that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in a closet.” (punctuation and word order as per the original). As evidence for her proposition, the plaintiff presents passages from Leviticus, Romans and “Jenesis”.

Thankfully, the lawsuit was thrown out without so much as a hearing. Said Judge John Gerard: “A federal court is not a forum for debate or discourse on theological matters.”   

This is beyond embarrassing. Its beyond an eye-roll and a sigh. Because, unfortunately, its sickeningly diagnostic.

What is it about the issue of homosexuality and the American church that makes us look so buffoonish? What is it about the topic of homosexuality that leaves us perpetually (but remarkably unknowingly) putting our feet in our mouths?

We claim to listen to Scripture, but instances such as this make that a hard claim to purport (cf: 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 & John 8:7). Additionally, the problem is continually revealed to be that we don’t listen to culture. We don’t listen to culture and so we don’t have the slightest clue of how to address culture . We listen to our Christian subculture- yes- and from thence we attempt to blast our intellectually incestuous rhetoric into ‘the world’. Which goes over like a pork pizza at a Bar Mitzvah.

It is not the calling of the church to conform the world to our standards; its the calling of the church to conform ourselves to God’s grace. There’s no room in said job description for applying diagnostic morality vis a vi legislation. None. Nu-uh.

Jesus said that the world would hate us because he is not of the world. But- generally speaking- the “world” doesn’t hate the American church; hate would signify some level of adversarial respect. Culture doesn’t take us seriously enough to hate us.

Uh…^^^^^…. can you blame them?

Please take note of the pronoun here: “we.” I want to be clear that I consider myself to be in the same camp. For, as my pee-wee football coach used to say: we win as a team, we lose as a team. My fellow Christians, we sin as individuals but we lose as a church. Doesn’t matter if its sexual sin or social sin- all of Egypt suffered even though only the Pharaoh told Moses “no”. God is concerned with broken systems just as much as he is concerned with broken people- his redemptive power is not limited contrary to our narcissistic notions.

And as a group we bear the following indictment: we don’t listen, we talk (he blogs, ironically). And because we don’t listen we can’t hear the laughter generated by our own absurdity.

The issue of homosexuality is not black and white. It is complex. Because it is a matter of sexuality. And sexuality has a lot to do with personhood and human beings are anything but black and white. And they certainly don’t fall under the label of “issues” nor should they ever be handled as such.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy O’Toole profiles a man by the name of Ignatius J. Reilly. Ignatius is a poignant character by any standards. He’s fat, repulsively unkempt, given to unashamed bowel movements, loud, selfish, narcissistically arrogant and incestuously intellectual; he spends his days berating his mother and writing his uncompleted works of self-designated genius while bemoaning the ‘mongoloids’ that have overrun society. Examined theologically, Reilly serves as a startling portrayal of the state of the American church.

At one point, Reilly self-righteously bewails the moral decay of the miscreants with whom he finds himself forced to interact. In between audible bowel movements, Reilly proclaims:

“A firm rule must be imposed upon our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.”

Wait…was it Reilly– or did I read that in the handwritten lawsuit?

My point is that American Church is indeed on the edge of an abyss. But that abyss isn’t “the gay agenda”, it isn’t liberal disregard for Biblical authority or abandonment of loyal translations and submissions to church tradition. The abyss is that of our own making, the corner we’ve backed ourselves into, the mountain we’ve sworn we’ll die upon.

Because America is on the verge of entering the post-Christendom era, whence Christianity is being increasingly separated from matters of the state and quickly dethroned from its temporary role as a cultural authority. The icons we continue defending in the midst of so-called “culture wars” are not the gospel- after all, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. What we’re defending is our own religion, the grip we have on Christianity as we know it, the grip that doesn’t allow for conversation because we’ve not stopped talking long enough to hear what the other side might have to say.

The posture of the American Church towards culture needs to be one of listening. Simultaneously, we ought not listen to Scripture- we ought to live it. And living in Biblical truth means living with great concern for how we portray that truth to those around us, for the stories we tell with the lives we lead.

It’s laughable to reduce that story to a handwritten lawsuit filed against someone else’s moral decision. Nor should we allow our story to be conveyed in anyway that it might be taken as such. The imperative is on us, not the culture; the teacher cannot blame the students for her shoddy communication.

If a 66 year-old lady from Nebraska can teach us anything (besides how ‘Genesis’ really should be spelt) its that it’s time we took a moment to listen.

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Dear Indiana, This Is NOT Religious Freedom

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Dear Indiana,

You’re a nice state. I mean, you’ve got Bloomington and the Colts, dunes on Lake Michigan, cornfields, windmills, country concerts and the world’s best funnel cakes at your county fairs. You have a lot going for you.

But if there’s one mark against you, its last week’s signing of ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ by Governor Mike Pence. The act allows for the citing of religious beliefs as a defense for anyone prosecuted by a private party for discrimination. The main concerns with this legislature regard treatments of same-sex couples. Because Indiana business owners now are legally protected from ramifications for their refusal to serve, sell, aid or cater to gay persons on the basis of personal convictions.

“I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Governor Pence said in a very private, quiet ceremony last week.

Which is ironic. Because this is not religious freedom.

The legislative mandate that I am able to deny someone else goods or services because I judge their beliefs as being in opposition to mine, creates a dangerous paradigm. As a Christian, I am now protected in openly and publically refusing mechanical assistance, food services, and even banking to someone, just because they are gay. Take a moment to tinker with that sentence; remove the words “Christian” and “gay” and insert “Aryan” and “Jewish” in their stead. Try it with “white” and “black.” Are you nervous yet?

This is why history books will one day recognize the gay rights movement as another sad chapter in the story of the American Church.

Because we, as American Christians, have proven once again that we will go to great lengths to avoid our oppression. We’ve proven that our knee-jerk reaction to the slightest scent of persecution is to rise up and pull whatever political strings are necessary to ensure that we are safe. It doesn’t matter who isn’t protected, just so long as we’re left unscathed.

Thus, in an effort to avoid being oppressed, the Church willingly takes on the role of oppressor.

This is not religious freedom. And it certainly is not Christian.

We would be wise- in debates such as these- to reconsider our earthly role as the body of Christ. Because the calling of the Christian is not to legislate our beliefs. The Biblical mandate for Christian relationships with earthly kingdoms is not to force them into alignment with our personal journeys of sanctification. Rather, God commands that the church be a city on a hill, a vibrant example of Christ’s love in contrast to the world’s corruption, evil, oppression and hate.

We ought not say: “let us ensure that our’s is a Christian government.” Because it never will be.

Rather, what we should be saying, what we should be living, is a life that tells the world: “Look at how nations go to war and kill each other- we Christians love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Look at how the kingdoms are enthroned with power and money- we Christians share possessions openly with everyone. Look at how governments close borders to refugees in need- we Christians open our houses to anyone. Look at how people discriminate and hurt, we Christians love and cherish the marginalized, broken and yes- even the sinful. Lest we forget the log in our own eye.”

But we cannot say this. Not right now, anyway. We’re too busy protesting, arguing and advocating for our ‘rights.’ When we’ve accomplished that, we might see to those of others. Maybe.

Which is to say every Christian in Indiana and the rest of America should look upon this law with ominous shudders because of the precedent it establishes for those Christians across the globe who really are facing persecution. Today, thousands of Christians live under the oppression of radical religious rule (have we forgotten the plight of Iraqi Christians under ISIS who are forced to pay a hefty tax or convert?). Christians live in fear, many unable to attain basic services or earn a living. They are boycotted, robbed, beaten and sometimes killed. All this because a radical Muslim’s expression of their religious convictions is protected by their judicial law.

And that’s not religious freedom.

True, refusing to serve someone at the local diner doesn’t equate to beating them and taking their wallet. But history tells us- again, Germany circa 1935- that its not too far behind. And it’s a slippery slide.

To many of us, this law will be of little concern. We will never feel its ramifications. Maybe this is because we don’t live in Indiana. Maybe it’s because we’re part of the religious status quo. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy making sure that religious freedom means: “I’m safe and I’m free.”

But -if we’re being honest, Indiana- we know that this is not religious freedom. It’s the tyranny of self-interest. And it’s been the go-to reaction of American Christians for far too long.

The issue of homosexuality is a real one. It is an issue of moral and theological implications that all Christians should grapple with. But someone else’s conviction regarding their sexuality has nothing to do with Christ’s mandate that- above all else- I am to show love, hospitality, generosity, empathy and care.

We must come to value the freedom of Christ more than our ‘freedom of religion.’ The freedom of Christ moves us to find new ways to love all others at all times. And it certainly doesn’t allow us to go on a legislative binge whenever we get the sense that culture is treading on our toes.

My hope is that one day the American Church will be known, not for the legislature we erect in self-defense, but for the dividing walls we destroy with our love. It can happen. And in the grand scheme of things, Indiana, you’re not a bad place to start.

After all, you have funnel cakes.

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Sincerely,

A Christian in support of freedom

 

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P.S. And, by the way, what exactly is a ‘Hoosier??’

 

 

 

John MacArthur On Gay Children: Some Counter Thoughts

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John MacArthur recently gave some horribly, unbiblical advice.

MacArthur, a prominent and respected leader in the Christian church, was presented with a very pertinent question from one of his followers concerning homosexuality. MacArthur’s answer to the question was a wonderful example of how Scripture is repeatedly taken out of context within the discussion on homosexuality.

Let me explain.

A reader posed the following question to MacArthur: “My child just came out of the closet,” they asked. “What do I do?”

MacArthur’s response can be found here:

In the video MacArthur states that if your adult child comes out to you and they are a Christian, then this requires “confrontation of the sternest kind”. MacArthur then goes on to say that, in following the model of Matthew 18, he must be put out of the church.

“You have to alienate them,” MacArthur states, “You have to separate them. You can’t condone that. It’s inconsistent with the confession of Christ. So you isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You turn them over to Satan…as Scripture says.

…That’s how you deal with that.”

And there you have it. In responding to the question of homosexuality MacArthur crossed a line into gross misapplication of Biblical sources, one that seems to be increasingly and ironically common among people who hold the Bible to be infallibly authoritative.

Because MacArthur cites Matthew 18 as his support for the abrasive separation of the homosexual child along with all the other actions he recommends to parents. The verses MacArthur are referring to here are Matthew 18:15-17:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

First of all, what is important to note is that although the NIV (which is likely MacArthur’s translation of choice) states “if your brother or sister sins” many manuscripts and translations feature this sentence as “if your brother or sister sins against you” (emphasis mine). While the textual research for this variation isn’t definitive (which is why two reputable translations such as the NIV and ESV can have differing phrasings and still be completely authoritative) what is clear is that this passage is talking about disputes between two Christians in which one has sinned against the other. This is further evidenced by verses 19-20 (“For where two or three are gathered in my name..”). Inasmuch, this verse has absolutely nothing to do with sexual sin (be it homosexuality, heterosexuality, bestiality, whatever) but everything to do with disputes between believers.

Exhibit A: MacArthur has taken this verse drastically out of context.

But hold on; it gets worse.

Because remember that MacArthur cites Matthew 18 as his support for “isolating” children practicing homosexuality and “turning them over to Satan”? In this tidbit of advice MacArthur is cherry picking from 1 Corinthians 5 in which Paul says not to associate with the sexually immoral. Okay, so it makes sense MacArthur would use that to denounce homosexuality right?sadddd

Sort of but no. Because nowhere in the Corinthian passage does Paul specifically refer to homosexuality. He refers to numerous other specific sins by name but homosexuality is not mentioned. Rather, the sexual sin he was condemning the Corinthian church for tolerating was one that wasn’t tolerated “even among the pagans” (1:1) meaning the church was ruining its societal reputation merely by association with this sexual practice. Hm. Okay. Does that sound like homosexuality in our culture? No. While this isn’t necessarily a case against this verse’ condemnation of homosexuality, it certainly isn’t a case for it. At least not to the excessive level MacArthur takes it.

So MacArthur nitpicks the support for his message from two Bible verses both of which he takes out of context to support his thesis.

But here’s where MacArthur’s advice really gets me, and the irony seethes like pus in a festering wound. In citing Matthew 18 as support for isolating a homosexual relative, MacArthur had to have noticed Matthew 18:17 “if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector”. Okay, so now it makes sense why he would say we should shun them, isolate them, and alienate them. Because that’s exactly how Jesus treated the tax collectors and pagans (which, by the way, is the same word often translated as “Gentiles”, which by the way, if you’re reading this means that unless you can prove your Jewish heritage, are circumcised and eat Kosher… that’s you). Right? I mean, that’s how Jesus treated Zacchaeus the tax-collector and the pagan women at the well, the one with a reputation for sexual sin. Right?

Actually, it’s the quite the opposite of that.

What MacArthur’s fallible and erroneous implementation of Matthew 18 ignores is the fact that immediately preceding this verse Jesus does address the proper way to deal with a homosexual child: it’s called “The Parable Of The Lost Sheep”(Matthew 18:12-14).

lost sheepIf your child, your friend, your co-worker… whoever is living in sin (whether that be sexual sin, greed, idolatry or a slew of other sins that were featured in 1 Corinthians 5 which MacArthur conveniently overlooked) then here’s how you deal with it:

You love them as Christ loved them. That does not mean you affirm their sin, but it certainly doesn’t mean you kick them to the street. It does not mean you encourage them into sin, but it does mean you love them through it, providing for them as Hosea did for his wandering spouse, as God did for the Israelite nation, as Christ did for us. Though rebuke may be in order listening comes first. A lot of listening. Especially with an issue as complex and weighted as this one listening is the first step to Christ-like wisdom.

For people like MacArthur who claim the way to confront someone in sin is via alienation, I’d really love to understand how they saw Christ isolating us when he shed his heavenly crown to come and die for us. Such notions water down of the gospel to the most atrocious degree.

Furthermore, any true student of the Bible would be quick to point out that it is not Christ we imitate when we promote rigid moralistic codes, rather it’s the Pharisees. In fact, the correlation between MacArthur’s advice and the practices of the Pharisees are uncanny. The Pharisees kicked people out of the temple when they disagreed with them (John 9). The Pharisees were the first to call down judgment upon people, particularly for their sexual sins (Luke 7:39). The Pharisees were notorious for knowing the Scriptures enough to mix and match it to fit their own regimental system of religion, all the while missing the fulfillment of Scripture standing before them (John 5:39-40).

And Jesus had some harsh words for the Pharisees. He called them children of Satan (John 8:44).

Inasmuch, John MacArthur needs to think twice before encouraging his followers to isolate and separate the homosexual in their midst. There is a time for confrontation and there is Biblical precedence for removing the hand of fellowship (specifically in the letters of Paul), but MacArthur fails to make that case with his misleading use of “scriptural” support. Instead, his argument illuminates the hypocrisy that all to often pervades this discussion. I hope that MacArthur begins to check his himself and his exegesis before he encourages parents to do something so unloving, so against the message of Christ, as to put out their own child. Such advice does not stem from the real gospel.

For the real gospel tells us the story about a Savior who was surrounded by followers whom the religious leaders of the age had thrown out. The real gospel is about a Jesus who associated with the sexually questionable of his age, who sought the broken and downtrodden. The real gospel is about a Jesus who came to all of us when we all should have been isolated, cut off and thrown out and, instead of that, died for our salvation. The real gospel removes the urgency from our rhetoric and transplants it into our love: real, active love with hands, feet and scraped knees, love that involves getting dirty with those who spend their lives in the dirt.

Any gospel that promotes a message other than this gospel is no gospel at all.

There is a way for Christians to deal with the increasingly pervasive topic homosexuality among our peers, friends, co-workers and yes, even our children. But it is not the manner MacArthur suggests. And MacArthur, if he really believes in the authority of Scripture, would be wise to check himself before he misquotes it in promotion of such a “gospel” again.